The Ole Miss baseball team came into the 2020 season with as many question marks as any top-25 team in the nation, but most of those questions were answered, at least for the moment, when the Rebels knocked off No. 1 Louisville in Oxford.
After a 7-2 loss at the hands of Reid Detmers on Friday night, the Rebels used a pair of offensive-fueled victories on Saturday and Sunday to secure the series win over Louisville.
Head coach Mike Bianco got a healthy balance of impressive performances from his veterans and his new weapons over the weekend.
The bright spots of the Rebels performance can be summed up into the play that sealed the 7-6 win on Sunday. The Cardinals scored two runs to cut the lead down to a one-run difference in the ninth inning, and veteran Max Cioffi was on the mound with the save opportunity.
With one out, the junior wound up to face pinch hitter Henry Davis, striking him out swinging. Meanwhile, Justin Lavey — who reached on an error — attempted to steal second, but freshman catcher Hayden Dunhurst hurled a ball to Peyton Chatagnier from his knees to get the tag to end the game and the series.
The season is long, and not every weekend will be as triumphant as this one, but the Rebels have raised some eyebrows by battling enough to beat a complete team destined for Omaha.
Even with the loss on Friday, the Rebels showed a spark. Anthony Servideo showcased his leadership with his glove and in the batter’s box, going 2-3. Justin Bench stepped into an everyday starter role with two hits. Overall, the lineup struggled with Detmers, but the top-rated lefty will give plenty of lineups fits before this season’s over.
Doug Nikhazy received the loss after allowing four runs in 5.1 innings, but he won’t see a better lineup top to bottom until SEC play begins.
“We score some runs, and we’ve got to put up a zero after that,” Nikhazy said after the loss. “They smell a little bit of blood in the water, and they put together some really good at-bats, so credit to their offense. I left a couple pitches up, maybe not my best pitches, but I’m going to learn from that and come back better next weekend.”
The Rebels came back after the season-opening loss to deliver two promising wins, piecing together well-pitched innings after taking advantage of bursts of offense.
Cael Baker and Chatagnier became instant fan favorites over the weekend. Baker went 5-12 over the weekend with five RBIs and two home runs, even stretching out a double while getting nonstop Kenny Powers comparisons.
Chatagnier looked like a nice fit in that middle infield with Servideo. The freshman went 3-9 with an RBI and four runs scored over the weekend.
Freshman pitcher Wes Burton shined in his 2.1 innings pitched on Sunday by retiring seven of the eight hitters he faced.
“At the beginning you hope the young guys perform, and a lot of questions out there were answered today,” Bianco said. “You don’t know how they’ll do the first time they step out there.”
The new faces complemented their veteran teammates perfectly in the first three games of the season. Freshmen Dunhurst and Jerrion Ealy showed their star potential defensively but couldn’t produce at the plate, failing to record a hit over the weekend.
Of course the Rebels have some things to work on throughout the next few weeks of the season (every team does), but the performance put on in Oxford this weekend is an undoubtedly positive sign for a team that is expected to go through some growing pains.
The Rebels will stay at Swayze for two midweek games against Arkansas State on Tuesday and Alcorn State on Wednesday before hosting Xavier in a weekend series starting Friday. Greer Holston will start on Tuesday.